My debt is almost gone. Five months ago, I had $13,000 in student loans. Today, that number is less than $4,000.
In two months, I will be 100% debt free. For the rest of my life, my money will be mine. It won’t belong to a bank, the government or a credit card. It will belong to me.
In many ways, it feels surreal. After all, my entire post-college working life (all 7 months of it) has been shadowed by debt. Each paycheck was sliced in two as I made aggressive loan payments and built a small emergency fund.
I’ve thought about my debt a lot. In fact, I probably think about it at least once a day. Sometimes it feels like my life is on hold until it is paid. But other times, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come.
$10,000 paid off in 5 months.
I know that I’m in the home stretch now and it’s finally feeling real. Even though it’s been stressful, the truth is that I’m still thankful for my debt and that will never change. In many ways, I feel more thankful than ever:
1. My Earning Potential is Limitless
Before I got serious about paying off my loans, I thought that my earning potential was defined by how much a company would pay me. During college, I dipped my toes in freelance writing, but my earnings were small. Once I got serious about paying off my debt, I knew that I needed to earn more…a lot more.
I did some research and found that earning a significant amount of money through “side hustles” is entirely possible and honestly, it’s changed the way I think about money. I still work a full-time office job (that I enjoy!) but the company I work for no longer defines my earnings.
In February, my “side” earnings from freelance writing and social media management will hit $1000.
If someone had told me that was possible when I was in college, I would have laughed and thought they were insane. But it turns out, it’s entirely possible. $1000 in extra cash?! UM, YES PLEASE.
But what’s even better than earning extra money is the feeling of control that accompanies it. I’m in control of my destiny—financial and otherwise, and that’s the best feeling in the world.
2. I Can Live (Happily) on Less
When I made the decision to aggressively pay off my loans, I knew that I needed to keep my spending low as low as possible. BUT, I also knew that extreme budgeting or deprivation would lead to a spending binge. So I learned to create a sustainable budget with “fun” money budgeted in.
But even beyond that, I was never too strict with myself. If I wanted to buy something extra one month, I did. There was no guilt or shame. Instead, I tryto always approach my spending desires from a place of acceptance and understanding.
The result is that I’ve learned to happily live on less. I’ve lived on less before and it wasn’t fun (or sustainable) because it was driven by fear, necessity and shame. But this time has been different. I want to be debt free so badly, but I want to be happy and healthy even more.
3. Everything Happens in Time
When I was in college, I never would have believed this was possible. In fact, I thought that my loans would haunt me for life. (Yep, even though they were “only” $13,000) At the time, $13,000 was more than I had ever made in a single year and it felt utterly impossible to pay off such a big amount in a year, let alone 7 months!
But paying off my debt has shown me that everything happens in time. The things that felt impossible last year now feel simple and that’s a trend I hope to accomplish throughout the rest of my life: constantly pushing myself to be better.
Okay, so the lessons learned are awesome. But what about the fun part…what will I do when I’m finally done?
Although it’s a little taboo in certain financial circles, the truth is that there are some things I’m super excited to buy when I’m done paying my student loans in March.
There are a lot more than the ones listed below (K-cups! Perfume! New couch pillows!). But, these are three I am most excited about:
I love travelling and like most Millennials (we’re awesome, what can I say?) I believe that traveling is critical to a happy and healthy life. While I was paying off my loans, I was still able to travel a bit and visited London, South Carolina and San Francisco. But my travel rewards credit cards are brimming with points and I’m excited to expand my destinations once I’m finished. The top places on my list? Mexico, Italy and New York City.
I’m a sucker for brunches (especially ones with mimosa flights….) but I’ve curbed my brunch cravings quite a bit in past few months so I could focus on my loans. I can’t wait to indulge in brunch more regularly once I’m finally free.
This is definitely the one I’m most excited about. I cannot wait to build my savings, invest and create a killer nest egg. When money is taken care of, life is infinitely easier. After all, how can I plot world domination if I’m concerned about next month’s rent? 😉
What are the indulgences that you couldn’t live without? Any advice for what to do when I’m finally free? If you’re still paying off debt, what would YOU do once it’s gone? I would love to hear from you!